Monday, February 18, 2019

2017 & 2018: 11 Bless Those Batteries

Solar Panel Regulator, New House Batteries and New Smart Regulator for Alternator.

This was the beginning of a long drawn out and rather expensive saga over a period of nine months.  Sopromar Boatyard in Portugal were asked if they could come up with some charging solution for my three sets of batteries while I was away back home – a single 12 volt starting battery, four 6 volt house batteries and 2 bow thruster batteries.  In the numerous exchange of emails over several months the result was that there wasn’t a solution.  Meanwhile the regulator for the solar panels had malfunctioned, needed replacing and that subsequently the four house batteries had gone flat and needed to be replaced, which they duly did ie solar regulator and batteries.  The old batteries were almost 10 years old – a ‘Trojan’ performance, so probably time for new ones.

At the same time I also had the alternator checked out and we identified that we needed a new regulator for it, which I purchased separately and brought back over with me when I returned to the boat in mid Aug17.  Sopromar fitted the new regulator, tested it and that was that.  Or so we thought.

The bow thruster batteries are AGM and so had held up fairly well and the techo had wired them up somehow so that they received a trickle charge of some sort from the solar panels and didn’t flatten.  AGM batteries can fairly happily sit for up to around six months without any charging and not suffer I’m reliably informed.  

Anyway, to cut a long story short the new regulator was not wired correctly and so the batteries steadily drained once we got underway, except for some charge from the solar panels (which only charge the house batteries and starter battery).  The bow thruster battery charging only occurs when running the motor/alternator.  To add to this mix, we had a generator that didn’t work.

Our batteries were recharged on shore power whilst ever we were in marinas at Lagos, Madeira, Canary Islands and then Cape Verde Islands.  In between were relatively short trips so I wasn’t too concerned as the solar panels did their thing outstandingly and I rarely used the bow thruster.  It was on the 16 day Atlantic crossing that I became fully aware of the charging problem as the starter battery voltage in particular dropped significantly, although I was always able to start the engine when I had to.  

On arrival in Antigua (where we anchored) I had an electrician look at the charging system and he thought it was all okey, particularly when his meter showed 12.6 volts (not the 13 – 14 volts necessary) and he thought the regulator was doing what it should.  He also condemned the house batteries as needing replacement even though they were less than 12 months old.  

No point arguing, so we pushed onto Sint Maarten, initially on anchor but later on shore power at FKG Rigging, where I was able to charge the batteries using shore power.  I also had the house batteries charged and tested at Budget Marine where they were announced as being in good condition.

Next stop was Turks Caicos (shore power in the marina) where another electrician, a friendly French Canadian, made a valiant effort to identify the problem of a very low charge and suggested that the regulator was faulty, only achieving ‘float’ voltage instead of starting with ‘bulk’ and moving through ‘absorption’ and then onto ‘float’.  He also had access to the regulator manual and spoke to the manufacturers but thought it was wired correctly.

We entered the US at West Palm Beach, Florida and then proceeded north along the Intracoastal Waterway anchoring most nights - happily for as long as we had sunny weather.  Unfortunately, further problems were experienced when we had a succession of overcast days and the batteries received very little solar power.   We then experienced some difficulty when anchoring off New Smyrna Beach using the electric anchor winch.  The starter battery was quite sick by now so, with Daytona in our sights, we kept the engine running all night, pulled the anchor up by hand the next morning (thankfully it was clean sand), and made for Daytona Beach.

We berthed in Halifax Harbour Marina (great people and very friendly fellow boaties).  I tried to charge the starter battery using shore power but it would not hold a decent  charge so I had to purchase a new one.  I also consulted with a trusted electrician who had done some work on the boat about 9 years previously after the mast had been hit by lightning.  He is semi-retired now and advised that I should do it myself – every good captain should know how to set up a regulator he said - so read the manual at least three times – and then do what you need to.   I followed his sound advice and found that the regulator was wrongly wired, wired it correctly myself, and now all batteries are charging pretty efficiently, although I sometimes wonder if the starter battery should not be getting a bit more charge.

In summary, three electricians couldn’t get it right, but the fourth electrician gave me best support of all – do it yourself.  Lesson learned, big time.

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